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Mexico Mole: A Celebration of Mexico
To food lovers, there is nothing that evokes the mystery of Mexico more than mole. Rumors abound about this sauce—it takes days to make, has 35 different ingredients, includes lots of chocolate. All of these rumors are like most rumors—only partially true.
The dish that most Americans think of as mole is Mole Poblano, which originated in Puebla, Mexico. Oddly enough, Mole Poblano is not an indigenous food; it was created in the 17th century after the Spanish conquest of Mexico. Although the Aztecs and Mayans loved chocolate, they did not use it in cooking, only for drinks. The word mole is from the Aztec language of Nahuatl, molli, which means sauce or mixture. There are several stories about the creation of the first mole and there is no proof that any one of them is true. The most repeated, but unverified, story is that a nun at the Santa Rosa convent in Puebla, Mexico, made the sauce for a visiting bishop. The first documented use of chocolate in cooking, apart from drinks, occurred in Italy around 1680.
Mole is considered a unique feature of Mexico’s culinary heritage. For weddings, festivals and national holidays, Mexican families gather to make their special recipe, handed down from generation to generation. Each region of Mexico is known for its own specialized mole. Puebla is known for the mole that contains chocolate. Oaxaco is known for yellow mole that contains yellow chiles (chilhuacle amarillo), among others. And the Gulf States are known for their green mole that contains various greens, such as Swiss chard and tomatillos.
In this article, mole means Mole Poblano—a mole from Puebla with chocolate.
Mole is a fiesta dish that was made in huge cauldrons for hundreds to enjoy. To make mole for a very large wedding feast takes days, but you can make 12-15 servings in only a few hours. A typical mole consists of 20 to 22 ingredients, including about 90 grams of Mexican chocolate.
In the past few weeks, I’ve been on a mole hunt, looking for the best mole for the least effort and these are my findings.
Mole from Cooking Class
I called Maria Ricaud at the Coci-Mari cooking school in San Miguel de Allende to see if she could get a mole class together. She could and did and we had a great time.
She made her mole in 2 hours although the mole would really require another 1 to 2 hours for the flavor to blend more fully. We tasted the mole periodically as it cooked and could really taste the different ingredients come to the forefront until they blended into a complex sauce.
Maria has reduced her family’s mole recipe to approximately 12 servings. Fortunately, mole freezes well. She cautions against reducing the recipe any more because the subtle blending of the ingredients would be lost.
As mentioned, Maria’s mole recipe takes about two hours to make, with another ½ to 2 hours of stirring. The stirring needs to be constant so plan on having friends over to help you.
The preparation time for making this very labor-intensive dish has been substantially reduced by the use of a blender and a large spice/nut grinder. Roasting and blending the vegetables by hand using a molcajete (a mortar made of volcanic rock) and a tejolote (a pestle made of volcanic rock) and then hand-grinding kilos of the nuts and spices using a metate (a sloping, three-legged volcanic rock) took many hours.
If you’re in San Miguel de Allende and would like to take a mole class from Maria, you can contact her by email at email@example.com. You can also visit Maria’s website (http://www.traditionalmexicancooking.com.mx) for class information and registration.
Mole Sauce by Rancho la California
A friend introduced me to this jarred mole, made on a ranch near San Miguel de Allende.
Sra. Cecilia Grande de Peña began bottling mole, as well as pipian and adoba sauces, about four years ago. The mole recipe is a family one from Cecilia’s father-in-law, Don Casimiro Peña, who uses the mole to show off the hacienda’s dried chiles. He visited Puebla to find the best recipe to serve to chile buyers from around the world at his hacienda, Rancho la California. He found the recipe, but it was for 100 people. The hacienda cook, Doña Lidia Enriquez, adapted the recipe for fewer servings. Now Doña Lidia is retired, but still lives on the hacienda and oversees the quality and taste of the mole production.
We invited our monthly dinner group over for the feast. I made chicken stock (chicken thighs boiled in water with onions, garlic and cilantro) in the morning. A friend brought two jars of Rancho la California mole and others contributed rice and beans for this traditional meal.
My friend emptied the mole into the cazuela (a large, earthenware pot) and I strained chicken stock into it by the cupfuls. We heated the sauce over a low flame and kept stirring it, adding stock as needed. We also skimmed the fat from the sauce (a by-product from the stock) and saved it for making enchiladas another day. We stirred, added stock and skimmed for approximately ½ hour. When the mole was thick, we plated the chicken thighs and spooned the mole over the chicken. Then we sprinkled toasted sesame seeds (antolojis) over the chicken and mole. Finally, we added rice and beans to the plate.
It was delicious and I saved the leftovers for another meal. My recipe for chicken enchiladas with mole sauce is at the end of this article.
Cecilia says that her mole stands out from other bottled mole because of the recipe used and the high quality of the dried chiles, which are commercially grown on the hacienda.
Rancho la California mole is sold under various labels in the United States and Mexico, including Trader Joes and Goya. Cecilia is working on distributing the sauce directly under her own label in the United States. She is also working on a website, so stay tuned.
Anonymous Mole at the Market
Walking through the huge weekly market (Tuesday Market) in San Miguel, I heard a man’s voice call out: Mole! Mole! Mole!
At his feet were two large plastic buckets, one with red mole and one with green. In my newly acquired Spanish, I asked him who had made the mole and he replied that he and his brothers made it. He told me that it contained chiles and raisins. I tasted both of the mole pastes and bought the red. At that point our communication broke down, but, nonetheless, I bought about a half a cup to try at home. A long line formed to buy his mole.
Many home Mexican cooks (and restaurants, also) use mole paste as a base for their mole sauce. Just add chicken stock and you’re ready to go! In Mexico, you can get mole paste at the mercado (market), as well as local tiendas (stores). Many cooks have their favorite tienda to get their mole paste.
Mole from the market or a tienda is similar to the bottled mole in that it has all the spices and chiles of the fresh mole. It is lacking the fruits and vegetables—onions, garlic, plantains, tomatoes—that give mole some depth.
The Taste Test
I added chicken stock to the two mole pastes until they were the same consistency. Maria’s mole didn’t need any stock added. Using tortilla chips, my tasting panel, consisting of me, my husband, and a cooking friend, tried all three moles to see how they differed.
We found that Maria’s mole was far and away the best. This was not a surprise. The two other moles were almost tied. The jarred mole was good and had tasted great on the chicken thighs and the enchiladas that I made. On the tortilla chips, the mole from the market tasted great.
However, using either the bottled mole or the mole paste is a true time-saver and the resulting mole poblano or enchiladas are delicious.
If you’re going to make Maria’s Mole Casero, which means Homemade Mole, have some friends over and turn mole-making into a communal event. That’s what a Mexican fiesta is all about.
I’ve also included a recipe for enchiladas using Rancho la California mole.
Maria’s Mole Casero
Courtesy of Maria Ricaud
Nut/Spice Grinder (the larger, the better)
Cazuela or a large sauté pan
Comal or a griddle
6 ancho chiles
3 pastilla chiles
3 garlic cloves
1 small onion
5 plum tomatoes
4 Tablespoons peanuts
4 Tablespoons pecans
5 Tablespoons raisins
3 corn tortillas
½ roll (small hero size)
1 large or 2 small, very ripe Plantains
2 Tablespoons chile seeds (optional)
8 block pepper corns
1 stick cinnamon (Mexican, if possible)
½ Teaspoon cumin
½ Teaspoon anise
2 Tablespoons sesame seeds
a 3.3-ounce tablet Mexican chocolate (such as Ibarra)
4 to 5 Tablespoons pork lard or vegetable oil
5 to 6 cups chicken broth
Salt to taste
Sauté the almonds, peanuts, pecans in the lard or vegetable oil, remove and set aside. Sauté the raisins in the lard, remove and set aside.
In a dry small skillet over low heat, toast the chile seeds, peppercorns, cinnamon, and cloves. Remove and set aside. Remove skillet from the heat and toast the cumin, anise and sesame seeds. Remove and set aside.
Grind the cumin, anise, and chile seeds until powder. Set aside. Grind all the nuts, separately but in any order, and reserve. Grind the raisins and reserve.
Boil approximately 2 cups of water. Remove from the heat. Clean the chiles with a brush and toast on a griddle for a few minutes. They should just start to smell smoky. Soak the chiles in the boiled water, removed from the heat and covered, soak for approximately 25 to 30 minutes.
On a comal or griddle, roast the garlic, onion and tomatoes until soft. Set aside.
Place lard or vegetable oil in a small skillet over medium heat, sauté the plantains until golden. Remove and set aside. Sauté the bread in the same skillet until golden, remove and set aside.
Combine vegetables (garlic, onion, tomatoes) and the plantains with 1 ½ cups chicken in a blender and blend until smooth. Strain the vegetables. Heat remaining lard in a cazuela or sauté pan over low heat, add blended ingredients. Salt to taste.
By this time, the chiles should be soft. Remove the stems, seeds and veins from the chiles. Put chiles, including the chile water, in a blender and blend until smooth. Strain the chiles and then add to the vegetables in the cazuela.
Grind the bread and tortillas until a paste, and then add to the cazuela.
Add 2 cups chicken stock to the cazuela.
Add 1 cup chicken stock to the ground nuts, whisk to dissolve. Add to the cazuela, along with 2 cups chicken stock.
Add the chocolate to the cazuela.
Cook, and stir continuously, for approximately 1 ½ to 2 hours. Add stock and salt as needed.
The taste of the mole will change as it is stirred. The mole will keep in the refrigerator for up to a week and in the freezer for 6 months.
Enchiladas with Mole Poblano
8 to 10 corn tortillas
1 jar of Rancho la California mole sauce
2-4 cups of chicken stock (recipe follows)
2 cups shredded chicken
½ onion, diced
1 garlic clove, minced
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
¼ cup sesame seeds, toasted
Preheat oven to 375 degrees
Making the Mole
This step can be done a day or so in advance.
Pour jar of mole sauce into large sauté pan and heat over low heat. Add chicken stock one cup at a time. Stir each cup of stock into sauce until it is totally incorporated. Keep adding stock and stirring for approximately ½ hour. During this time, remove any fat (it will be dark brown) and reserve in a bowl. You should have approximately ¼ to ½ cup of fat.
The mole and fat will keep in the refrigerator for up to 2 days. You can use the mole over chicken breasts or thighs, sprinkled with toasted sesame seeds.
Preparing the Enchiladas
Lightly grease the baking pan.
Sauté the onion and garlic quickly in the vegetable oil, remove and set aside.
Next, get your workspace set up. Put the shredded chicken in one bowl, next to the bowl with the onion and garlic. Have the tortillas ready, next to the stove, and a rectangular baking dish ready.
Pour the fat from the mole sauce into a small skillet and heat over medium heat. Using tongs, dip the tortillas into the fat until lightly covered. With the hot tortilla flat on a plate, add 1 tablespoon of chicken at one end. Then top with 1 tablespoon of the onion/garlic mixture. Roll up the tortilla from the filled end and place in the baking pan.
Repeat with the remainder of the tortillas. If you run out of fat from the mole, add a bit of vegetable oil.
Bake for approximately 30 minutes.
Before serving, heat the mole over low heat until it is hot. When you are ready to serve, spoon the mole over the tortillas and sprinkle with sesame seeds.
Quick Mexican Chicken Stock
8 Chicken thighs or breasts (with skin and bone)
½ medium onion, chopped
1 – 2 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced
1-2 sprigs cilantro (optional)
6 cups water
Combine all ingredients in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, and then lower to a simmer. Simmer for approximately ½ hour or until chicken is cooked.
You can use this chicken for your Enchiladas or Mole Poblano and the stock is ready to use in your mole.
Arlene Krasner is a former high-tech engineering manager. She is currently living in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.